Ready to Serve: Sturgis Woman's Club has long history of community involvement

Story and photo by Michelle Patrick

Sturgis Woman’s Club has a rich history. Past president and club historian Gretchen Andersen knows the club’s history inside and out. She’s been working for the past three years to bring it all together.

"It’s a very interesting history of this club," she said. "When I first got started in it, I kind of went, 'Wow,' because, believe it or not, they kept good records."

According to Andersen, the Sturgis group got its start in 1894. "This club is now 123 years old," she said. "They've done an awful lot of work, all these women in the community, which is amazing in itself, and they've also contributed to state, national and even world projects all their entire career as a club."

It started with 20 women. Membership was limited and an initiation fee of 50 cents per year and dues of 50 cents per year were approved. That would be about $15 today.

In the early years, a typical program of a monthly meeting was music, literary review, essays, and historical review. The club reviewed English history from Elizabeth I to Queen Victoria. Another noted individual of the time was Shakespeare and reviews were given of "Othello," "Taming of the Shrew" and "Divine Tragedy," among others. A yearly social in the spring including the women and their husbands was part of the schedule. The second annual banquet was held at Hotel Thornton in Sturgis. The menu included celery, olives, pickles, cold turkey, boiled ham, boiled ox tongue, escalloped oysters, creamed potatoes, potato salad, chicken salad, fruit jelly, Matsdorf’s fancy cream, pineapple sherbet, assorted cake, coffee, tea and chocolate. In 1895, a similar club was organized, named Sorosis, whose purpose and programs closely paralleled those of the older club. Each was dedicated to the "intellectual development of members" and had strict rules regarding absences and non-participation.

Both clubs were concerned with education, civic problems, home life, literature and fine arts. In the early 1920s, a declining interest in the activities of both clubs became evident, resulting in the merger of the clubs in 1928.

That same year, with approval and support of the club, a group of volunteers that came to be known as Women’s Service League was organized. The group's purpose was to assist with non-medical tasks at the newly opened Sturgis Memorial Hospital. Duties included mending and flower arrangement. That project became popular and its growth necessitated separation from the parent club, and Sturgis Hospital Auxiliary came into being.

Although volunteer service never officially was stated in the program of the club, past and present records show an ongoing committent to community service and related activities. Some notable community projects for the club have included:

  • Initiated construction of the first library in Sturgis.
  • Advocated turning the garbage dump site into a park.
  • Urged the city to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Lakeview Avenue and Chicago Road.

To this day, Sturgis Woman's Club members educate themselves and help with community, state, national and international projects. Membership has been as high as nearly 300 at one point in the club's history, according to Andersen. Current membership is around 20.

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